“Bob ain’t here to make another one“

Frank Gehry remembers Robert Venturi and VSBA’s work

Obituary West
Frank Gehry has offered rememberances of the late architect Robert Venturi. Shown: VSBA’s Vanna Venturi House from 1964. (Smallbones/Wikimedia)
Frank Gehry has offered rememberances of the late architect Robert Venturi. Shown: VSBA’s Vanna Venturi House from 1964. (Smallbones/Wikimedia)

Last week, architect Frank Gehry spoke to The Architect’s Newspaper regarding the recent passing of postmodern hero Robert Venturi at age 93.

Venturi passed away on September 18 and in the days and weeks following, architects, scholars, and critics from around the world have offered poignant remembrances of Venturi and of his work with partner Denise Scott Brown and their joint firm, Venturi Scott Brown Associates (VSBA).

The pair is largely responsible for ushering in the postmodern architecture movement during the 1960s, a ground-shifting development that rocked established architectural discourse through convention-challenging buildings and radical publications alike. The developments helped to open a new realm of architectural expression, an opportunity generations of later architects—Gehry included—have exploited in order to explore new horizons in architectural and urban design.

Over the telephone, Gehry explained that though he and Venturi feuded publicly from time to time, he felt much admiration for the late architect. Gehry said, “Bob Venturi is one of my heroes in life,” adding, “as is Denise.”

VSBA’s Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London

Gehry praised VSBA’s Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London. (Richard George/Wikimedia)

With recent high-profile demolitions in mind, Gehry voiced support for preserving VSBA’s work, explaining that “maybe it’s a time to reflect on the issue (of preservation) that Denise has brought up,” a reference to Scott Brown’s recent efforts to bring awareness to the increasingly imperiled nature of some of the firm’s lesser known works, like the firm’s Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego expansion.

Gehry explained that while “it’s hard to lose Bob [Venturi], what he [and Denise] gave us are insights created over a lifetime” that will live on in VSBA’s remaining built work.

Specifically, Gehry offered praise for VSBA’s Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London. The groundbreaking work—a 120,000-square-foot expansion of the historic gallery that was built in 1991—was recently listed in England’s National Heritage List as a structure with Grade I significance.

Regarding the project, Gehry said:

“Their project in London—Sainsbury—I go there and I marvel at it. I’m not a Classicist or an Originalist, I’m not into that, but those columns in the back, at an angle, a slight angle, it does something to your perception. Yeah, I have Venturi love in me.”

Gehry went on to postulate that when it came to the preservation of postmodern-era structures, architects and clients are both often at a loss, especially when budget-driven clients are setting priorities.

While acknowledging that “culture changes, people are different,” Gehry admitted that “I don’t know that we understand [postmodern architecture], really, or how to deal with it.”

With a note of finality, Gehry added, “Bob ain’t here to make another one, though.”

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